President Kibaki left a stable economy. Where did President Uhuru Kenyatta go wrong?
Kibaki was not a novice. He had experience as a Cabinet minister and vice president. He had a lot of time to prepare to lead, especially the economy.
Kibaki did not believe in enriching himself with public funds. He was satisfied with what he had. He was more interested in developing the country’s economy, not stealing from it. He found an economy on its knees, set up structures, came up with Vision 2030 and initiated public service reforms. He was an integral part in the making of the new constitution. He got able administrators, then delegated jobs.
When Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto took over, they did not focus on the economy or Vision 2030. Uhuru wanted his own team and dropped experienced civil servants of the Kibaki administration. Then there were political problems that pitted Raila Odinga against the Jubilee government, with the 2018 handshake further causing more problems resulting into Jubilee A and B. The public debt escalated and much of the money that should be used for development is now diverted towards repaying debt. Corruption, Covid-19, the BBI and tussle over revenue sharing formula have made things even worse.
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If you become president, what would you find so hard to correct after Uhuru’s term?
You can’t lead alone. You need people who have the best interest of the country at heart. I will prioritise devolution by ensuring more money is sent to the counties. I will work with elected leaders and enforce the rule of law to create an environment conducive for the fighting of corruption. I almost lost my seat fighting corruption in Makueni County. I will also insist that civil servants and other public service officers must declare their wealth and agree to leave office if found culpable in corruption. I will also initiate a programme that guarantees employment for the vulnerable.
DP Ruto spoke of the ‘system’ and ‘deep state’ being against his presidential bid. How will you navigate through that?
We ought to be careful about what we call the deep state because there is the State, which is provided for by the Constitution and is enshrined in the law. If you work outside that framework, that becomes illegal. Baptising wrongdoers as deep state is something I do not accept if or when I become president. The matter of deep state has been dramatised. It is wrong to propagate a narrative that there are people in the government system, who can’t be touched by the law.
There are several presidential hopefuls from Ukambani. That will divide the region’s votes, and ruin your chances, don’t you think?
Kenya is a democracy. I am not asking anyone to step down for me. It’s the people to weigh us and look at our agenda and make a decision. Presidential contenders should not be seen as enemies. I will ask the people of Ukambani for their blessings. I will then ask the people of Kenya for the same, because we are looking for a national president, not a tribal president.
The so-called dynasties have what people believe a candidate they have already settled on for the presidency. If that is the case, how you plan to win against a candidate with unlimited resources?
But who is this candidate? Kenya is not a monarchy, and you cannot be elected to leadership position just because you come from a particular lineage. The question is not whether or not you are a dynasty, the question should be, am I able to convince Kenyans to elect me? Do I have solutions to their problems? That is my focus. I don’t want to call them dynasties, however they have a right to go for the presidency, just not in the name of a dynasty.
Do you plan to raise money for your campaign from Kenyans. Isn’t that a tall order?
No. I will run with whatever I am offered, even if it’s just Sh5. That’s what President Barack Obama of the United States did. He was not rich, but he was organised. It’s the same way we were organised during the making of the Constitution. We were underdogs, we didn’t have any money but we were organised. If someone gives you Sh10, it means you have their vote because they have invested in you.
How will a Kivutha presidency look like?
If the people and God will, it and it happens, there would be a different Kenya. I will do better than Kibaki, who was my mentor. He did very well, and that’s my standard for Kenya. I have no interest in doing business with the government because I am not a businessperson. My work is to facilitate those who want to do clean business with the government.
Makueni is a model county for other devolved governments. What did you learn about power from your position as governor?
Apart from my experiences in life, studies in theology taught me about servant leadership, how Christ was a servant leader. I knew that when you get in power, if you are not careful, you can easily be corrupted and transformed by power. You feel powerful and make decisions. I learned to let citizens be central in decision-making. Do not get comfortable because power can get to your head. I learned that anybody can misuse power and friends can mislead you. So when you are in power, you should draw a line between social friendship and public government. Power can be of great benefit if well exercised.
How are you addressing rising cases of teenage pregnancies in Makueni?
We are trying to engage the young in productive work, as most are idle. Apart from Kazi Mtaani, there is also the Ajira initiative to get them into gainful employment. Makueni has a counselling department with free, youth-friendly centres, where youth go for advice on drug abuse and pregnancies. The deputy governor is actively involved in these programmes. The Makueni first lady, who is a counsellor by training, engages teenage girls and sex workers and counsels them. But parental guidance is also important, as are teachers and religious leaders.
You are a prolific writer and even penned plays like ‘Kanzala’ and ‘This Famine is Great, Mother.’ Why the long break?
I was a teacher and as a teacher, you must research and write. I moved to civil society as a social activist and public intellectual. I then got into politics and of course this demands so much of your time. I am currently working on an anthology of poetries in English and Kikamba, as well as a novel titled, Season of Sowing, which I started writing a long time ago.
Which was your happiest moment of life?
When I held my first daughter at birth.
Women make the majority of voters. What is so hard for them to vote one of their own in elective positions?
It is because of patriarchy, a culture where men are dominant and are the leaders. It is not true that women are their own enemy, that is just negative assumption. The problem is that men have the resources and women do not. Women also shy away from political violence during campaigns. Some husbands deny their wives freedom to go into politics. Some communities have not also fully accepted women as leaders.
You have been a dean at the University of Nairobi, is there a student you can’t forget?
There are so many I still remember, because I was very close to them. I remember a friend, who is a writer with The Standard. He was a brilliant law student and would do other things other than law. He wanted to drop out. We had a connection because we were both creative. I persuaded him to finish the law degree and do whatever else he wanted. I struggled with him and ensured he attended lectures. He graduated, and now if I want my memoirs done, he will be among the first people I will approach.
Why do you think Kenyans always vote for leaders who bring them tears?
Because of lack of civic education and voting along tribal lines. People need to vote for a vision, not where someone comes from.
What would be your advice to President Uhuru on legacy and retiring in peace after 2022?
He should finalise his Big 4 Agenda, intensify the war on corruption, deepen youth issues and make the electoral environment fair by advocating for it. He should also mend fences with DP William Ruto so that he goes home as a friend of every politician.